Rick Spielman was not shy about how excited he was to trade down in the first round of the draft and select Christian Darrisaw. The Minnesota Vikings picked up two third-round picks from that trade: One became quarterback Kellen Mond, and another became Wyatt Davis. The Vikings double-dipped on bulky offensive line help and threw a dart at the QB board in one fell swoop. The trade is widely regarded as one of the best of the draft, but what about the picks themselves?
Darrisaw is antithetical to the typical Vikings’ style of offensive lineman. That’s probably a good thing considering the results of that philosophy. Mond could replace Kirk Cousins if a lot of things go right. That leaves Wyatt Davis, who played right guard exclusively for Ohio State. Davis, like Darrisaw, has a ton of power but not much movement. Like Darrisaw, Davis didn’t participate in athletic testing at his pro day thanks to an injury.
The knee injury affected things down the stretch for Davis, but he still turned in extremely good play. Much of that good play is thanks to his ox-like strength. His tape (Davis is RG #52 in all of these) is littered with strength-based wins. It can be very exciting to watch him overpower victim after victim and think that the Vikings got him in the third round.
In pass protection, strength is not enough on its own. Linemen have to mirror and counter their opponent’s pass rush plan. Davis has plenty of incredibly impressive reps to this end as well. This was especially impressive at Ohio State with a quarterback known for holding the ball. That gave us many really long reps that truly tested Davis’s ability to hold up, adjust to broken angles, and counter multi-stage moves.[videopress h1rVL2ee]
This is especially helpful against stunts. The Vikings were an absolute disaster against stunts and twists last year.
Dakota Dozier‘s crime in the above play is that he commits way too hard to the crashing DT. That left a gigantic gap for Shaq Barrett to attack, and Dozier was in terrible position. Davis is smooth as butter against stunts, which was especially impressive against Clemson in the College Football Playoff. Clemson and Alabama especially tested Davis, which turned out to be a futile effort.[videopress k1sfT0gW]
This is particularly exciting because of what it means to the defense. Stunts are a good way to manufacture pressure without blitzing, but they take a long time. That time cost is supposed to be offset by a greater chance of getting to the quarterback. Deny that reward, and the defense just spent precious time for nothing.
Even on his poor plays, Davis can recover using strength. On the offensive line, you’ll be out of position sometimes. It’s impossible to win that battle every rep. But with strength like Davis’, you can recover from those poor positions. The idea of good positioning is to gain a leverage advantage. Davis is strong enough to win without a leverage advantage, which will convert losses into wins.[videopress vmmYxgat]
A lot of these reps come from defensive linemen using high, long arms to attack Davis. In the trenches, “low man wins” the leverage battle, and Davis loses it often. He powers through well, turning inconsistent technique into consistent production. That may not translate perfectly to the NFL level, but we’ve seen enough of it against NFL-level competition (Clemson, Alabama) to quell any worries.
Unfortunately, Davis will have to win more reps like this than is comfortable in the run. The worst of Davis’ reps come in the run game. While that might be a breath of fresh air to Vikings fans who are sick of Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland, it could be what keeps Davis off the field at the beginning of the season.[videopress QNZXqKmW]
These reps shown against Clemson and Alabama were also at the peak of Davis’ knee injury, which could have affected his mobility. Given that, it’s still of significant concern. Sometimes he just doesn’t have the athleticism to get to the second level. There’s not much to be done about that but hope it doesn’t happen too consistently. For my money, it’s not a deal-breaker, but it is a weakness.
Many of these plays are thanks to mistakes in timing. That is a more fixable issue that comes down to fundamental technique. Combo blocking is a common zone technique that requires him to block on a defensive lineman and then work his way to a linebacker. Here’s USD offensive line coach Andy Prevost explaining further:
You might notice the Vikings drilling this a lot in training camp highlight reels. That should shore up Davis’ timing. Spend too long on the first block, and the linebacker can get away from you. Spend too little, and you leave your teammate out to dry. If Davis can improve at that over the course of camp, his pass protection wit and power could take him to a starting role by Week 1.
Wyatt Davis has some really exciting tape. He fell to 86 because of a knee injury that teams couldn’t investigate the way they’d prefer to. Since the combine was canceled this year, team doctors couldn’t get a read on that knee injury, so the Vikings had to be okay with rolling the dice. But if Davis is healthy — his participation in rookie minicamp is a great sign to that end — he could be one of the better offensive line picks in Rick Spielman’s portfolio.